Thursday, April 02, 2009

Freedom Comes From Law: Celibacy and Garden Rakes

Yes, with April Fool day just behind us, the feast day of all Fools, and especially Chestertonians like us, we must turn to the next few measures of the Great Cadence that concludes Orthodoxy. NO, that title is not GKC, but it is remarkably close to his famous "Free speech is a paradox" line from his book on Browning. Such startling paradoxes will pale as today we explore a little of GKC's cosmology - his "Theory of Everything" - which we have heard of previously, and which is the foundation of the soon-to-be-famous Chesterton-Tolkien "Theory of Story". As you know by now, GKC is not going to give us that theory in tensor equations - or even in syllogisms. Rather, Uncle Gilbert gives us a very unusual and interesting example: a comment about Celibacy, and how it is like a garden rake...

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So, since I have accepted Christendom as a mother and not merely as a chance example, I have found Europe and the world once more like the little garden where I stared at the symbolic shapes of cat and rake; I look at everything with the old elvish ignorance and expectancy. This or that rite or doctrine may look as ugly and extraordinary as a rake; but I have found by experience that such things end somehow in grass and flowers. A clergyman may be apparently as useless as a cat, but he is also as fascinating, for there must be some strange reason for his existence. I give one instance out of a hundred; I have not myself any instinctive kinship with that enthusiasm for physical virginity, which has certainly been a note of historic Christianity. But when I look not at myself but at the world, I perceive that this enthusiasm is not only a note of Christianity, but a note of Paganism, a note of high human nature in many spheres. The Greeks felt virginity when they carved Artemis, the Romans when they robed the vestals, the worst and wildest of the great Elizabethan playwrights clung to the literal purity of a woman as to the central pillar of the world. Above all, the modern world (even while mocking sexual innocence) has flung itself into a generous idolatry of sexual innocence - the great modern worship of children. For any man who loves children will agree that their peculiar beauty is hurt by a hint of physical sex. With all this human experience, allied with the Christian authority, I simply conclude that I am wrong, and the church right; or rather that I am defective, while the church is universal. It takes all sorts to make a church; she does not ask me to be celibate. But the fact that I have no appreciation of the celibates, I accept like the fact that I have no ear for music. The best human experience is against me, as it is on the subject of Bach. Celibacy is one flower in my father's garden, of which I have not been told the sweet or terrible name. But I may be told it any day.
That paragraph will no doubt be used to argue the point that GKC was not Catholic, since "I have no appreciation of the celibates". But rather I think it demonstrates a very strong acceptance of - perhaps I might call it evidence of an intellectual conversion to - Roman Catholicism, since any mention of celibacy cannot possibly refer to the Anglican church. Moreover, he betrays a mystical (if not intellectual) Catholicism in his very words: "I am defective, while the church is universal. It takes all sorts to make a church..." Remember that "universal" is just Latin for what "catholic" is in Greek! (In English it's "all sorts".)

While this is interesting, it is rather all an aside, and for another kind of study (on GKC, not on this book!) Let us resume with the topic - but what is the topic - celibacy? No I must caution you. He is NOT so much making an argument about celibacy here as much as he is pointing out what is really the right stance for someone who hasn't quite gotten his mind around one of the truths (or disciplines) of the Faith: you must wait to be told! That applies far more strongly to other matters. But neither is this the point. It's larger, and as Father Brown once remarked, perhaps it "was too big to be noticed." ["The Three Tools of Death" in The Innocence of Father Brown]

Ahem! I am having a difficult time expressing myself on this so I will have to say it in tech. It's like the idea of an integral - it is a functional and not a function! He is NOT trying to convince you, O reader, about celibacy, or even really explain his view on that topic. He is trying to explain a very large truth that he has managed to grasp: the idea that the Faith is like a story told to a child by his father - or his mother.

I will risk adding a bit of my own "slovenly autobiography" here, as we are nearing the end. You may know I like Tolkien and Rowling and Sayers and Stout and a long list of other writers... You may also know I have been writing some stories, about a long-past job in the Control Room, or about a certain bookstore housed in a former church. And it may take a story-teller (take Tolkien at the very least for an example) to point out that there is always more to tell about your story. GKC's famous line "Every short story does truly begin with creation and end with a last judgment." [TEM CW2:379] reveals more of this, but just as St. John could only tell us so much in his Apocalypse/Revelation, some things are "sealed up" (Rv 10:4) But the Author knows them, even if that part of the Story has not yet been written - or published. But there's every chance we'll get told. GKC often quotes a famous line from Scholastic Philosophy, which ties this sense of Story back to my odd title about Law...
It was St. Thomas Aquinas (I think) who pointed out that authority is the same as authorship - in auctore auctoritas. We owe a certain respect to human society, just as we owe a certain respect to parents, because without them we could not have been. In merely walking about the street unmolested we are accepting the parental care of the State. The State has given us life in preventing us from being murdered: without the law, I might be dead; with the law I must be law-abiding. It is only on one exceptional and unpleasant occasion that the policeman comes bodily forward and lays violent hands on Miss Billington. All the rest of the time the policeman (like a modest lover) watches unseen over Miss Billington's safety.
[GKC ILN July 14, 1906 CW27:238]
Poor reader - I can hear you moan: "O Doctor! Latin and scholastics and integrals and functionals (whatever they are) - and that links in to story-writing - and to Faith? I guess it takes a computer scientist to make such a wacky connection." Yes, it does. Or a Chestertonian:
I would undertake to pick up any topic at random, from pork to
pyrotechnics, and show that it illustrates the truth of the only true philosophy...
[GKC The Thing CW3:189]
True, we could sit back and have a nice long academic discussion: does this constitute a Chestertonian "Argument From Childhood"? I don't know. I think it does. Somehow "in auctore auctoritas" = the authority in the authority - is the clue to a whole lot of the mystery of life. If we expect to get to the bottom of the mystery of the universe, we will only find out from the One Who arranged it in the first place. Those who delight in certain authors are always wondering about how their little subcreated world got to be that way... as scientists wonder about our little created world got to be this way. (Yes, I am thinking a lot just now about Father Jaki.)

But let us proceed - and I think GKC will say everything I just said in a lot simpler and clearer way:

This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right, like my father in the garden. Theosophists for instance will preach an obviously attractive idea like re-incarnation; but if we wait for its logical results, they are spiritual superciliousness and the cruelty of caste. For if a man is a beggar by his own pre-natal sins, people will tend to despise the beggar. But Christianity preaches an obviously unattractive idea, such as original sin; but when we wait for its results, they are pathos and brotherhood, and a thunder of laughter and pity; for only with original sin we can at once pity the beggar and distrust the king. Men of science offer us health, an obvious benefit; it is only afterwards that we discover that by health, they mean bodily slavery and spiritual tedium. Orthodoxy makes us jump by the sudden brink of hell; it is only afterwards that we realise that jumping was an athletic exercise highly beneficial to our health. It is only afterwards that we realise that this danger is the root of all drama and romance. The strongest argument for the divine grace is simply its ungraciousness. The unpopular parts of Christianity turn out when examined to be the very props of the people. The outer ring of Christianity is a rigid guard of ethical abnegations and professional priests; but inside that inhuman guard you will find the old human life dancing like children, and drinking wine like men; for Christianity is the only frame for pagan freedom. But in the modern philosophy the case is opposite; it is its outer ring that is obviously artistic and emancipated; its despair is within.
In another place I have called this idea "converging evidence". GKC adds something more, revealing his superlative engineering skill. He does not just make a conclusion from all the converging evidence. He points out how the alternative "solutions" are emphatically NOT solutions at all! That is an even more stupendous insight.

I want you to re-read one particular bit again:
Christianity is the only frame for pagan freedom.
You might not like this line. It may seem very - uh - anti-Christian. But it isn't. We all want to know what we can do and what we can't, and we seem to think that the "can't" part ought to be as small as possible. But that's what GKC is calling "pagan freedom". But - fortunately - I do not really have to explain. GKC already did, some pages back, when he wrote:
Any one might say, "Neither swagger nor grovel"; and it would have been a limit. But to say, "Here you can swagger and there you can grovel" - that was an emancipation.
Yes, just like the grand conclusion of a symphony, we are hearing little repeats of all the major themes, in their most joyous, and most fitting settings... We are free because of Law, not in spite of it!

Huh? you ask. Again you need to recall GKC's definition: "What exactly is liberty? First and foremost, surely, it is the power of a thing to be itself." [GKC "The Yellow Bird", The Poet and the Lunatics]

Now let me also point out something else, which may be even more of a surprise, since he wrote this 100 years ago: "in the modern philosophy the case is opposite; it is its outer ring that is obviously artistic and emancipated; its despair is within." That is even more true now than it was in 1908. All one has to do is turn on the television and see - government with its taxes and bailouts, and the "arts" from rock to movies, and the "sciences" from AIDS and embryos to energy and evolution - all are bright and shiny outside, and inside are nothing but despair.

GKC now tells us why.

And its despair is this, that it does not really believe that there is any meaning in the universe; therefore it cannot hope to find any romance; its romances will have no plots. A man cannot expect any adventures in the land of anarchy. But a man can expect any number of adventures if he goes travelling in the land of authority. One can find no meanings in a jungle of scepticism; but the man will find more and more meanings who walks through a forest of doctrine and design. Here everything has a story tied to its tail, like the tools or pictures in my father's house; for it is my father's house. I end where I began - at the right end. I have entered at last the gate of all good philosophy. I have come into my second childhood.

Note that some editions give that sentence as "I have entered at least the gate of all good philosophy." (Sorry I cannot give a citation for this correction, but it sounds more correct than "least".)

Aha. They don't get that they are living in a story. They are in elfland. They are in Eden. "It is only our eyes that have changed." [GKC The Defendant] But they want the story without the Author! They deny authority, so they have no meaning - and (as a result) they are chained. They lose all liberty. They lose all hope. And everything looks gray and dull and empty... It is despair.

But! We have heard all this before - here's three of the other motifs now taking their place in the Grand Final Cadence:
You cannot even say that there is victory or superiority in nature unless you have some doctrine about what things are superior. You cannot even say that the cat scores unless there is a system of scoring. You cannot even say that the cat gets the best of it unless there is some best to be got.

You could not even make a fairy tale from the experiences of a man who, when he was swallowed by a whale, might find himself at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or when he was turned into a frog might begin to behave like a flamingo. For the purpose even of the wildest romance results must be real; results must be irrevocable.

A mere unmeaning wilderness is not even impressive.
But... (oh yes, this is our concluding "but" for today) ...but GKC has "entered at last the gate of all good philosophy."

No, not by a proof. Neither by an example, nor by a syllogism, by experiment by equipment, or by "cunning words".

GKC has found the gate, and enters, as the hero does when he comes home from his adventure. Remember our opening theme: "I am that man in a yacht. I discovered England." [CW1:213] This theme is not GKC's. Another wrote it, who is both the Story and the One Who tells the Story:

"I am the gate." [John 10:9]


  1. We are a group that is challenging the current paradigm in physics which is Quantum Mechanics and String Theory. There is a new Theory of Everything Breakthrough. It exposes the flaws in both Quantum Theory and String Theory. Please Help us set the physics community back on the right course and prove that Einstein was right! Visit our site The Theory of Super Relativity: Super Relativity

  2. Sorry, mmfiore, but here we're talking about a different Theory of Everything. Yours is some sort of physics; besides you might need to check out what Dr. Jaki told Gell-Mann and Hoyle and those other Nobel winners about Gödel's theorems - it's just not possible to "finish" physics that way. Oh, yes, very curious - but a comment box is no place to handle this matter, nor do I wish to do you any disservice. Not at all! We Chestertonians are very interested - indeed, interested in everything, and not just physics.

    But the "Theory of Everything" we're suggesting here is not limited to physics. It really means everything, since it explains even things that physics cannot. I feel like Fermat: there's just not enough room in this comment box to explain, but keep reading, and we'll talk again.

    And once I have some spare time, I will check out your site. Thanks for reading ours! Stay tuned.

  3. what work is "cw"? Pardon my ignorance.

  4. Dear Father James,
    No problem. CW refers to the Ignatius Press "Collected Works" project, they have about 30 volumes where they've been trying to reprint much of Chesterton's work.

    So if it says "CW4:126" for example, it means it's in the Ignatius Collected Works, volume 4 page 126


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